Carly Rpse Sonenclar, Tate Stevens and Fifth Harmony, THE X FACTOR

Ray Mickshaw / FOX

What are a few technical difficulties when a $5 million prize is at stake?

Sure, The X Factor began and Carly Rose Sonenclar, Tate Stevens and Fifth Harmony didn't appear when hosts Mario Lopez and Khloé Kardashian Odom first announced them—but one of them was ultimately declared the winner roughly two hours later.

"They're a little nervous to come out here and it's that close," Mario said, killing a little time. "They're going over probably making a deal when one of them wins!"

Cue back to the red carpet outside the theater, where three SUVs pulled up and, one by one, expelled Tate, Carly Rose and Fifth Harmony for a joint performance of a popped-up (and, at moments, seemingly lip-synced) version of the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love."

The grand finale righted itself once the top three returned to the X Factor stage, Tate kicking off the solos with "Please Come Home for Christmas." Variety wasn't exactly the spice of life, with Fifth Harmony taking on "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" next, but the two together certainly got us in the spirit.

They aired the requisite Simon Cowell-insults montage, a carryover from his American Idol days, starting with "I'm not being rude" and including, as always, the Brit comparing someone's singing to a screeching cat.

This marked the first year, however, for the montage of Britney Spears' reaction faces, many of them quite priceless!

Carly Rose closed out the caroling round with "All I Want for Christmas Is You"—and then it was time to announce who had finished two places short of the winner's circle.

Just as Simon optimistically predicted, Fifth Harmony did not win the whole thing, instead coming in third following what was a surprising appearance in the finale in the first place. Calling last year's effort with groups (Paula Abdul was the first mentor cleaned out of contestants) a "disaster," Simon said his favorite part of this season was shepherding a group into the finals.

"We've gained more than $5 million could [give us]," said Karla Camila Cabello—and we hope that she and Ally Brooke HernandezLauren JaureguiNormani Hamilton and Dinah Hansen maintain that optimism as they head off into their future.

With Tate and Carly Rose left to ponder their fate, Pitbull got the joint dancing with "Don't Stop the Party" and then smooth operator Harry Styles and the rest of One Directiontake heart, Fifth Harmony, they finished third on the U.K. X Factor—performed "Kiss You" and sent many pulses racing. (For the record, there was no sign of Taylor Swift in their SUV when they pulled up to the red carpet.)

Next up, the top two teamed up for a duet on "The Climb"—and then, the moment of truth, time to declare either Tate Stevens or Carly Rose Sonenclar the winner of the second season of The X Factor.

And—way to go out on a high note, L.A. Reid—it was Tate Stevens who won it all!

As the 37-year-old highway worker from Belton, Mo., embraced his mentor in a big bear hug, Britney could be seen consoling her 13-year-old protégée (who, we were happy to see, remained composed and positive and immediately crossed the stage to give Tate a big hug). 

"First and foremost, I've got to thank the man upstairs for taking care of me," Tate said, his voice cracking with emotion. "My family, all the country music fans, God bless you, and thank you so very much for all the votes. And this is the best day of my life."

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